Knappton Cove: the Last of the Quarantine Stations

history quarantine

If you love Public Health Service history like I do, then you're in for a treat! I had the pleasure of discussing what is likely one of the last remaining PHS relics in the United States: the Columbia River Quarantine Station at Knappton Cove.


In 1889 the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps was established. Back then, it was the Marine Hospital Service. In 1891 U.S. law mandated that all immigrants coming into the U.S. received a health inspection by a Service physician. This was the era of "Manifest Destiny" and Americans were spreading Westward and more immigrants were incoming from abroad. Ships carrying immigrants were known to be harbingers of disease.

Thus, in 1893 President Harrison directed Surgeon General Walter Wyman to strengthen quarantine laws. Surgeon General Wyman ordered that ALL arriving ships be approved by a federal health officer. The most well-known ports were Ellis Island on the East coast and Angel Island on the West coast; however, there were many such quarantine stations throughout the U.S.

The Columbia River Quarantine Station sits at the mouth of the Columbia river as it exits into the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast. The station is located in Knappton Cove, WS and the Public Health Service officers were stationed south, across the river in Astoria, OR. The station was in operation from 1899-1938.

Interview with Nancy Bell Anderson

Here is a guide with timestamps for the interview with Nancy, the director of the Knappton Cove Heritage Center:

1:55-06:35- Intro

06:35-1401-  How Nancy become director, history of family owning the land, how she and her sister started Heritage Center

14:01-27:00- how they started to learn about PHS at Knappton, the Pesthouse, turning the center into a non-profit museum, how the clothespin project funded the beginning

27:00-45:30- ships bringing disease, Surgeon General controversy in San Francisco, laws mandating health inspections, 1921 Oregon article, reputation of officers in Astoria, life of the officers, and the inspection process

45:30-57:00- Discussion of tugboats/steamers, staff and maintenance of the station, roles of personnel at the station

57:00-1:03:25- Future goals of the museum, establishing relationship with PHS officers, becoming a National Park Service affiliate, "Pesthouse Guesthouse:

1:03:25-1:08:48- USPHS in 2021 and close 



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